NSW Premier Mike Baird admits he’s walked into a “tough gig”.
There’s a budget to deliver, a second Sydney airport to build, a corruption inquiry biting at the heels of his colleagues and of course a looming State election.
But Mr Baird is intently focused on making the last year of this term the most successful year yet, and in doing so, guarantee the Liberal Party a second term of government.
“The priorities are to continue the work that has already been started. The infrastructure that’s coming on the ground is transforming western Sydney and we need to make sure it is delivered and delivered in the quickest time frame,” he told the Weekender exclusively on his first trip to Penrith as Premier last week.
It’s a juggling act between the WestConnex, which is already underway, the M5 duplication that this week was brought forward, the expansion of western Sydney’s employment lands, housing growth and infrastructure for Badgerys Creek airport.
“They are going to provide huge opportunities for western Sydney, so my job is to make that happen and do it in the best possible time frame and obviously the sooner it happens the better it is,” he said.
The Premier’s sense of urgency in part comes from a Federal Government keen to progress the second airport.
This also has implications for the Western Sydney Employment Lands that surround the airport site, and which the NSW Government has been endeavouring to create a masterplan for.
“We’re pushing through on that and we are creating the overarching body that’s going to drive not just the airport, but the infrastructure, and the employment lands,” he said.
“It is charging ahead, we need to make sure it is coordinated and need to make sure it is done in the time frames that we are setting.
“The establishment of the overarching authority is going to be an important part of that, together with the formalisation of the roles with the Commonwealth Government. We want to deliver as quick as we can for western Sydney.”
A second motivation for getting on with the job is the looming State election in March next year.
Whilst the Government has started the ball rolling on many infrastructure projects, Mr Baird is keen to see them through to completion and prove to voters that this Government delivers.
“You will start to see the benefits. There’s time taken to prioritise projects, procure projects and start bringing them online, planning… and now you are starting to see boring machines go into the ground, cranes starting to come up to the sky and that is reflective of the work that has gone on over the last three years,” he said.
“Over the next few years we hope to add to those more cranes, more boring machines, and more infrastructure for communities.”
He says that the NSW Government has a remarkable track record in infrastructure projects that they are proud to take to the next election.
But their success at the polls will depend on what the public makes of the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry on illegal donations to the Liberal Party, that has already claimed several senior Liberal scalps.
“We don’t take any vote for granted and there’s no doubt it’s tough,” Mr Baird said.
“We will be in a tough position and it’s a tough election.
“I already see the Opposition thinking they are pretty much going to win so that’s for them to make those sorts of claims and assertions.
“We are going to do everything possible to fight for every vote across this state, and the reason we want to is the work we are doing shows exactly what the community wants to see.
“The economy was the slowest in the nation, had the slowest jobs growth in the nation, had the slowest housing in the nation – when we came into power. We are now leading the country on all of those. The economy is now moving, infrastructure is moving, services are improving, and we think it’s a compelling story.
“By the time we get to the election you’ll see a vision of where we want to take NSW. I think it’ll be a tough election but one that we will be very proud to contest.”
With the State Budget to be handed down next month, at least part of that vision will be revealed, and there may just be a few sweeteners for western Sydney voters.
“I think our record, when you look at it, is quite remarkable, especially when you look at the infrastructure space, and we are not slowing down, indeed we are trying to speed up on that,” Mr Baird said.
“I think western Sydney can expect to see some good things as they have over the last three budgets.”